Of all the Vietnam-theme titles announced last year the one that showed the most promise was Vivendi’s Men of Valor
. And for good reason, it was being helmed by 2015, the famed developers behind Electronic Arts’ masterpiece, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault
. With MOH:AA 2015 didn’t invent the WWII-themed shooter, it merely reinvented it and added what it needed the most; emotion and humanity. Now the same folks look to recreate that same magic with their latest release, but as we’ve found out with the plethora of Vietnam-era titles this year, the time period is different and the subject matter is distinctly different from what we’re used to. Can 2015 reverse the trend and show the gaming industry that Vietnam is indeed the next big thing? Or will it succumb to the same problems that plagued so many others before it?
I was so impressed by Men of Valor at E3 that I almost missed the private Half Life 2 presentation. One of the developers was giving me a demonstration and he had just handed me the reins when John Yan told me that it was our turn to enter the Half Life 2 theatre. I seriously contemplated missing the HL2 theatre in order to get some hands-on time with Men of Valor, it was that good. But now that I’ve had a chance to play the game in the confines of my own living room I’m less impressed with the game. The allure of the title has worn off and the game that once seemed so impressive was merely just average.
This isn’t to say that it’s entirely 2015’s fault. Plenty of Vietnam-themed titles were released this year but Men of Valor is the only one that comes close to getting it right. It’s an excellent recreation of the mood and feeling of the era, adding in what the genre desperately needed, humanity and the feeling of emotion and empathy. The developers didn’t take a position on whether the war was right or wrong but they did an excellent job of showing the horrors that faced our boys overseas. They did it with restraint too, they didn’t take it to the extreme like Shellshock ‘Nam 67
did and they didn’t miss the point entirely like in Conflict: Vietnam
. They merely present the war to you and invite you to offer your own conclusions as to the merits of our interference.
To do this the developers utilized the same system they used in MOH:AA. You assume the role of a soldier in the war and before each mission, you write a letter home that gives the player some incite into the mind of the character. That letter helps serve as filler between load times while setting up the next part of the game. I’ve always liked this system and feel that it fits in well here. I don’t want to make a big deal out of this, but it should be noted that the protagonist is black. Instead of turning into a race issue though it further solidifies the ties between races. In the thick of the battle it doesn’t matter if your comrades or black, white or yellow, all that matters is that you care for one another and do what it takes to make it out together. The game pushes this issue and if not for a few references in the letters, you forget about the color lines entirely.
It takes more than one man to win a war and for this you’ll always be accompanied by a squadron of soldiers. This makes the combat more intense as it opens the door to more avenues of success. It was breathtaking when it first appeared in Call of Duty
and it’s still a joy to watch it unfold today. There’s nothing quite like storming a village with one of your squad mates laying down cover fire while another flanks the enemies from the other side. It’s a shame that were given the option of delegating orders to your mates but they’re good at handling themselves.
There are 13 total missions, all of which are broken up into small segments. I understand the need to break the missions up but I feel that they really took me out of the experience. If the load times won’t bother you, the game’s incessant need to stop the action in order to display a pointless cutscene will. At times the game becomes preachy, especially in the early goings when you have a news crew with you. Upon clearing a village of VCs the CO orders the men to burn down the village. At that moment the reporter asks the CO how he feels about burning the homes of innocent women and children. At that time I wanted to turn off the game; stopping the action and wasting my time on such subtext really took me out of the experience. Because let’s face it, first person shooters are about shooting, not exposition and insight. Keep those elements to the loading screens and you’ll be fine. Stop the game to showcase it and you’ll derail the entire experience.
The shame of it all is that there’s a pretty good game hidden underneath, you just have to take some time to find it. Those expecting to be the next Rambo will need to cool their jets for a bit; Vietnam is a very slow and deliberate war. Fought in the thick jungles of ‘Nam, soldiers often treaded carefully for the next ambush could arrive at any time. For the most part MoV does a great job of portraying the combat seen in this war. It’s probably a pretext of the type of war that was fought, but firefights are poorly structured and the majority of a fight is spent firing blindly into any bush that moves. This could have lead to some pretty intense situations had it not been for the game’s weak level structure. In each level there’s always one distinct path that needs to be followed. It never feels realistic as it’s generally about 10-to-15 feet wide, conveniently wide enough to serve as a corridor of death, but not wide enough for any other real-world purposes. Because of this you’ll never be truly ambushed and most of the fire will come from the front. Simply chuck a grenade and move forth, repeat and you’ve got the gist of the action.
You’ll unleash hell with a wide assortment of real-life weapons pertinent to the time period. It’s kind of weird that you’ll often be saddled with a grenade launcher, but since the thing is damn fun to use, I can forgive the designers for it. In addition to being able to crouch you can now go prone, a feature that’s useful when the lead starts flying. There’s a new feature called ‘bandaging’ which pertains to any damage inflicted. When hit you’ll have a limited amount of time to hold down the “B” button. The longer it takes for you to hit the B button the more damage you will accumulate. This is a take on the blood loss that you would expect to take upon getting wounded. I liked this feature but felt it could have been implemented a little better. When bandaging you’ll still be able to fire upon foes and move around the environment. It’s difficult but you can easily hit the B button with your right thumb, use your right index finger to fire and bring your left thumb over to the right thumbstick in order to aim. It takes a little bit of practice but it’s not terribly hard to pull off. For the next endeavor the game needs to place a harsher penalty upon players. Realistically, you wouldn’t bandage in the middle of a firefight, you’d wait until it was over. The game should have taken the weapon out of your hand and forced you to remain mobile while you were bandaging.Instead of going with the aging Quake 3 engine the developers upgraded to the Unreal Tournament
engine for this endeavor. To be honest, if I hadn’t read it in the PR flack I wouldn’t have noticed. After playing games like DOOM 3
and Far Cry
for the past few months I’ve failed to see the beauty in this game. In terms of similarly themed titles, I’d put it at the top of this year’s console entries and behind EA’s Battlefield Vietnam
. There’s foliage abound but the game never does a good job of convincing me that I’m in a jungle. Most of the structure work is weak too and looks like it was developed on the previous generation’s technology. Aside from some excellent particle work and some decent blur effects, you’d be hard-pressed to tell that it was created with cutting edge technology.
With MOH:AA as our only reference point, it seemed like the audio engineers knew a thing or two about audio design. So why is the audio in MoV so weak and underwhelming? The sound of gunfire is never quite convincing nor are the sounds that emanate from explosions. There’s a good sense of chaos in the jungles but you’ll have to really turn up your speakers in order to experience. When you do that though you’ll discover that the samples were recorded at different volumes. So while you strain you ears to hear the gunfire the yells and screams will shatter your ear drums. Overall it’s a pretty weak effort by the guys who made one of the best audio tracks ever heard in a PC game.
The single-player aspect is decent but it gets much better if you have a friend around. That’s because the developers wisely decided to include single-system co-op for the entire game. You and a friend can play through the entire campaign, split-screen style. In addition to the co-op the game features multiplayer via the Xbox Live protocol. You can participate in the usual assortment of modes including variances on the assault and team deathmatch modes. The voice communication really kicks the action up a notch and adds another dimension to the strategic planning. I had some fun with the Xbox Live components but it wasn’t enough to keep me entertained for an extended period of time.
Developers desperately want to turn Vietnam into the next World War II but they’ve come up short thus far. Men of Valor
is the best effort thus far but it’s far less than what we’ve come to expect from our shooters. There are some decent elements here but the sum of the parts comes up a little short in the end. It’s an excellent rental if you have a weekend to kill but I’d think long and hard before deciding to pick it up.